• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

What makes Taylor's Port wine special

This Portuguese export is holding its own in New Zealand.

From the cheeky Sauvignon Blancs of Hawke’s Bay to Central Otago’s mighty Pinot Noirs, we’re a nation of great winemakers and wine lovers. Our diverse regions produce thousands of world-class, award-winning wines.

So, when an overseas brand comes to our shores, it has to bring something special to the table.

One such brand is Taylor’s Port – and there are a few very good reasons it’s been holding its own here in New Zealand. 

You might know Port as a sweet, rich red wine. It’s thicker and slightly higher in alcohol than other wines – so it’s perfect for a treat. What you might not know is that in the same way Champagne is only Champagne if it’s been made in the French region of the same name, Port is only Port if it’s been made in Portugal’s Douro Valley.

The conditions to create such a wine in the Douro Valley are unlike any New Zealand wine region. Crucially, the mountainous Douro Valley is searing hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, with vines planted on only a few centimetres of topsoil that cover the mineral-rich schist bedrock which retains the very small amount of rainfall throughout the year. The hardy local grapes are able to develop a sweetness, structure and depth of flavour that New Zealand climes just don’t produce.

And for getting the most out of the Douro Valley’s highly specialised Port-making climate, the family behind Taylor’s have plenty of experience; over 300 years’ worth. When Taylor’s started making Port in 1692, the treaty of Waitangi was a long way off. The Salem witch trials were underway. The French revolution hadn’t begun. New Zealand’s first vineyard wouldn’t be opened until 1851.

The Douro Valley in Portugal.

It’s a pretty staggering amount of time. And Taylor’s has been family owned and operated since the beginning. Winemaking techniques and traditions have been passed down through generations but at the same time, they don’t let this restrict their quest for improvement. Taylor’s make the most of modern winemaking and viticultural techniques but they haven’t given up the use of the more expensive, labour-intensive traditional foot treading method to macerate the grapes to extract the highest amount of complexity for all of their top end Vintage Ports. They are also one of the brands credited with leading the wine industry in the fight against climate change and local leaders in sustainable viticulture.

And their efforts keep paying off because their latest vintages are lauded as some of their best ever. In 2016, the Douro Valley had a particularly favourable year, producing an award-winning Vintage that might have been a tough act to follow, had 2017 not been equally powerful but a very different style of wine. 

The 2017 is classic Taylor’s, with fine, linear fruit and the signature floral scent,” says Head Wine Maker, David Guimaraens. “The thick-skinned, beautifully ripened grapes have produced dense, firmly structured wines, quite reserved at this early stage but with impressive depth and reserves of aroma.

With a few very hot weeks at the beginning of the summer, the season was relatively dry, especially when compared to 2016. Those conditions allowed the picking to start on the first of September at one of Taylor’s estates, Quinta de Vargellas. That’s two days earlier than the previous earliest picking in 1945 – a season hailed by Taylor’s as one of the “one of the greatest of the 20th-century vintages”.

It was a good sign that the Port was going to be good. But now that it has matured, the 2017 Vintage speaks for itself. The sweetness of the fruity wine is balanced by crisp, berry notes and hints of citrus. The tannins are strong enough to provide plenty of depth, yet they don’t overpower the subtle floral elements. It’s balanced, clean and classic.

Taylor’s is the Port that generations have been proud to display on the shelf, so it’s nice to know that if anything, it’s gotten even better. But like any good wine, the only way to be sure is to taste it and judge for yourself.

Find out more about Taylor's Port here.